28 March 2010

Phoenician Falafel, Kent Tce

The first time I had a lamb shish from Phoenician Falafel, a little Lebanese eatery on Kent Tce, I couldn't stop thinking about it for a week, until I finally gave in and went back for another. Things haven't changed much since then: on Thursday night, I went to Phoenician for dinner; woke up Friday morning with lamb shish in my dreams; by Saturday afternoon I was back there for lunch.

So, the lamb shish ($10). Not your average lamb kebab. Chunks of juicy, marinated lamb, cooked to order over a grill behind the counter, wrapped in a thin but airy pita bread along with lettuce, tomato, gherkins, and just enough hummus to hold it all together - but somehow, all together, it's one of the heavenliest things I've eaten. Thursday's was no exception; although it was E who had ordered it, I found myself sneaking bites almost every time he put it down.

In the spirit of trying something new, I had ordered E's usual, the sojak ($8). This was a few pieces of spicy Lebanese sausage, oblong and flattened a little, grilled to order and served simply with sliced tomato and a generously sized gherkin. Nothing complicated about this one, but the pared-back presentation showcased the flavours of the sausage beautifully. Juicy, with a little crunchy crust, the meat was savoury and spicy with a slow lingering heat and the gherkin and tomato provided a pleasant textural contrast.

So I was smitten, once again, by Phoenician's offerings. It isn't hard to see why I went back, on Saturday afternoon, alone, with lamb shish in my heart but keen to try something new. I'm glad I did: the chicken shawarma ($10) is another force to be reckoned with. Tender pieces of seasoned chicken were wrapped in pita bread with gherkins, salad and tahini. Oh, the tahini! The almost-smoky nuttiness of that sauce combined with the mild yet fragrant spices seasoning the chicken was profoundly wonderful.

Phoenician Falafel also do a pretty damn good baklava ($2.50). It's made with cashews which give it a distinctive flavour, and there's just enough rose syrup to give it a hint of sticky sweetness, though it's far from soggy. Truly swoon-worthy.

Phoenician Falafel isn't your typical kebab joint, and I almost feel it unfair to call it that. You don't get a choice from a long list of sauces or a counter-full of toppings; what you order is what you get, pretty much how the proprietors want to serve it. And, judging by the mouthwatering creations coming out of their little kitchen, they certainly know what they're doing. You may find it strange that for a place with "falafel" in the name, I've only mentioned meat dishes, but I've been so blown away by the quality of their meat-based choices that I keep going back for more. (I do have a vegetarian friend who had a less-than-great experience with their falafel kebab, which I kind of don't want to believe, but will have to check it out for myself soon)

This is not a place for the late-night Courtenay Place crowd seeking an alcohol-soaking feed at 4am (they close at 11pm on weekends). It is the place for those seeking great, unpretentious food in a casual atmosphere (or to take away - there aren't many seats). Check it out. And try the lamb shish. You'll be glad you did.

Phoenician Falafel
10 Kent Tce
(04) 385 9997

Mon-Wed 11:30am-9:30pm; Thu-Sat 11:30am-11pm; closed Sun.

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26 March 2010

Business Bites at La Bella Italia (La Bambina - the Terrace)

With both Florence and I finally back in town, we decided to have a long overdue catch-up over a lunch hour. We opted for La Bella Italia on the Terrace, conveniently placed near Florence's office.

La Bella Italia are pretty big on the Wellington Italian food scene: their warehouse-cum-eatery in Petone is more than worth the train fare, and their imported Italian cheeses and meats can be found in Moore Wilson's and other places that sell gourmet food products. Their shop/deli/cafe on the Terrace, lovingly named La Bambina ('the child' - whereas their original Petone store is called La Mamma) is perfect for an indulgent weekday lunch.

While Florence indulged in a glass of Rose Masseria Altamura ($9), the recommended wine pairing for her main, I had a cappucino ($3.50). It was a treat: just the right amount of foam to balance out the milk & espresso underneath. Plus, La Bella Italia uses L'Affare beans, which is always a thumbs up in my book.

The spaghetti gamberi e rucola ($19.50), spaghetti with prawns and rocket, came tossed in a chilli-garlic-olive oil combination* that's quite typical in Italian cooking. The spaghetti was perfectly al dente, the prawns plump and succulent (though a bit on the small side, the quantity was more than plenty), the chilli providing just enough bite to leave a mild yet lingering heat on the tongue. Delicious. I would have preferred more rocket, though in hindsight I wonder if they got our garnishes mixed up, as it seems like Florence had a heap of rocket on her dish whereas the greens on mine were mostly parsley.

Florence ordered the manicaretti con prosciutto cotto e pesto al basilico ($17.50): crepes made of flat pasta, stuffed with a dreamy mixture of ricotta, cooked prosciutto and basil pesto, baked with a layer of cheese and tomato sauce on top. It was airy yet rich, mild, flavourful.

True to their roots as importers/purveyors of fine Italian products, La Bella Italia's Terrace location also has a deli area selling cheese, cured meats and other Italian products. Not only is it the perfect spot for a business lunch, they have a good selection of gelato, biscotti, slices and the like, making it a great coffee spot too. And I'm sure at some point one of us will check out their breakfast menu!

La Bella Italia Bambina N. 1
101 The Terrace
(04) 499 1155

Open Mon-Fri 7am-late. Closed Sat & Sun.


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I somehow managed to splatter a drop of this oily sauce onto my new silk top, much to my embarrassment. It seems to only happen when I'm wearing something nice, too... whoops!

25 March 2010

Gusty Gourmet: The Map is here!

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I've been working on a Google map with all the places featured in this blog. Double-click to zoom, click and drag to move, or use the navigation buttons in the top left corner. Click on the blue balloons for more info and a link to the relevant blog post (and, where available, the restaurant's website). Hopefully it works OK - any feedback would be greatly appreciated!

20 March 2010

Offbeat Originals, Left Bank

If you walk past this sign in Cuba Mall’s Left Bank, you might be forgiven for thinking Offbeat Originals was just another one of Cuba St’s funky shops, selling (as the sign says) “artglass, ceramics & collectables”. But as you go further into the Left Bank* it’s soon apparent that , whilst Offbeats does have a funky collection of the aforementioned curios, its main attraction is (for me anyway) its no-frills-but-damn-good burgers, sandwiches, shakes and smoothies.

I loved the chocolate peanut butter milkshake ($5). Offbeats has a myriad of milkshake flavours, with extras like peanut butter a dollar extra. Of course, as a fan of all things peanut butter, I couldn’t pass it up. Nothing pretentious about this shake; it’s served in a Longest Drink in Town cup, not too thick (they also do thickshakes for those so inclined), but with a bit of extra body from the peanut butter. It’s pretty filling; it could be a (rather unhealthy but so so good!) meal in itself.

The tamarillo smoothie ($6**) was pretty tamarillo-y. I ordered this mainly because of the sheer comprehensiveness of the smoothie list, and the novelty of seeing it on the menu. It made me remember the fact that tamarillo’s not my favourite fruit… something about the flavour, I guess. Still, it was a refreshing drink, definitely not too sweet, as some smoothies can get.

Offbeats does a number of burgers, toasties and sandwiches. I usually get a baked bean and cheese toastie (although it’s something I could easily make at home, I still find myself drawn to their version) but this time I opted for a tofu burger ($7.50). It was such a good choice, I’m not sure I can go back to the old baked bean and cheese. The tofu was fried enough that it was bordering on crispy, but still juicy from the marinade. A generous portion of salad and a smear of mayo rounded off the whole thing nicely. And the soft, yet substantial bun might possibly have been the best burger bun I’ve had of late.

My friend C had a chicken, tomato and cheese panini ($6**). With customisable fillings, the number of panini permutations you can have is endless, and the olive-flecked bread is a nice addition.

The slices at Offbeats come in these long, thin bar-shapes. They’re a force to be reckoned with – maybe because of their length, they seem really huge, and are pretty sweet and rich at first bite (I can say that about the caramel slice and ginger slice, anyway). I was unsure if C and I could finish this, but I was wrong… despite our full bellies, it disappeared pretty quickly. The ginger slice ($3) had a thick, muesli-bar-like base which was chewy and gingery. There was just the perfect amount of icing; though it was thin, it was sweet and rich with a strong flavour of ginger. Just the way I like it, though if there had been more icing it would have overpowered the slice.

Offbeat Originals is a good choice for a quick, cheap feed when you don’t want to compromise on quality. In addition to tofu burgers and paninis, they also do non-vegetarian burgers, toasties and sandwiches and soup which all seem like popular choices. Although their menu is pretty basic, the sheer number of choices in terms of panini and toastie fillings as well as shakes and smoothies means that you could quite easily go there and never have to eat the same thing twice (although I usually end up getting the same things every time anyway!).

Offbeat Originals
Left Bank Arcade
Cuba St
(04) 801 8318

*Speaking of Left Bank, it’s full of gems. While Satay Kingdom is a favourite of many, I’m partial to Oriental Kingdom on the other side… they do a tasty chicken rice as well as the usual roti dishes. Plus I’ve been told that there’s a pretty good empanada place there, which I’m super excited to check out!

** If these prices are somewhat inaccurate, I apologise: I’m at the airport*** and mistakenly left my little notebook in my checked luggage. So I’m working off memory. But I think I’m right. I’ll double check and correct any errors upon landing!

***Yes, I’m on my way back to Wellington! (Via a 12 hour stopover in Brisbane) So, so excited. It’s been a good trip, though!

09 March 2010

Kreuzberg Summer Cafe

Aside from a brief (4-day!) stint in the capital city in February, my Summer Away From Wellington has been carrying on steadily. If you follow me on Twitter you might have read about my travels to the States and Brazil*, but I haven't been as good about posting updates from the road here on the blog. But! Worry not, dear readers (if there are any of you left!) - in less than two weeks I make my return to Wellington. And with Florence back from Vietnam, for the first time in months, both of this blog's co-authors will be in the same place at the same time, so coverage of our favourite eating experiences should resume as per usual!

As much as I've enjoyed travelling around, I can't wait to get back to my own kitchen, my favourite haunts and, fingers crossed, the tail end of the summer sunshine. OK, so technically it's autumn, but Metservice tells me there's still plenty of sun left in the forecast. Before it runs out, I want to share one of my new favourite places to bask in the sun, Kreuzberg Summer Cafe.

I've only been there a handful of times, but this outdoor cafe, located at the top of Cuba St in a former car yard, has that perfect Wellington-summer laid-back vibe that made me fall in love instantly.

Food and drinks are served out of a caravan, the cafe seating is on brightly painted picnic tables (a second caravan provides "indoor" seating), and the coffee comes in colourfully mismatched vintage cups and saucers.

The flat white ($3.50) was superb - the flavour and strength of the People's Coffee espresso held its own against the almost sweet creaminess of the milk - this is one coffee that definitely doesn't need added sugar, folks.

I had the yellow sunshine burger ($9.50): haloumi, caramelised onion, mayonnaise and fresh veggies in between tender Turkish bread. I'm such a fan of haloumi that I might be a bit biased, but this may well rank among the top 3 burgers I've had over the past year. The salty greasiness of the cheese was well-matched by the onions and mayo, but the bit that pulled it all together, in my opinion, was the cool crunch of the cucumber. Outstanding.

Wanting to try some of the sweeter options, I chose a mini caramel slice ($1). This bite-sized portion is a genius idea; I mean, way to break down the barriers to temptation (it's only a little slice...)! The slice itself was tasty but I found the caramel filling more russian fudge-y than caramelly. I'm still undecided as to whether that really detracts from its quality, though.

The blueberry muffin ($3.50) teetered on the oily side, but I'd take that over an over-dry muffin any day. It was soft, sweet and had that characteristic blueberry-muffin-batter vanilla-y taste - a definite plus.

Kreuzberg is the kind of place that I expect will come to define "Wellington on a good day" over the years. It seems to be actively becoming part of the eclectic Cuba St scene, hosting live music and the Cuba St Night Market on Fridays. It's vegetarian-friendly, the coffee is fair trade and much of the food & drink come from local and/or organic suppliers. On a sunny afternoon in Wellington, Kreuzberg may just well be the place to be.

Kreuzberg Summer Cafe
Cnr Cuba & Webb St
Te Aro
(021) 119-6257
Open 7 days, 7:30am-sunset

*For those of you who are interested, I'm posting photo highlights from Brazil, NYC and Chicago here